Vernor Vinge is a computer science professor and science fiction writer whose work I admire (actually, he’s recently retired from CS to write full time). I like his writing because he brings a computer-centric view of technology to the genre, and he does it in a believable way. This, versus the Hollywood vision of computers exploding, or yanking people into virtual realities, or plotting thermonuclear war. Vinge is a practical visionary. I think that he thinks Perl will be around a thousand years from now, regardless of what its name will be. Vinge supplies a geeks-eye-view of the world, where the geeks triumph and everything makes sense. Well, like I said, it’s fiction.

Anyway, Vinge has invented a number of job titles for his stories, such Programmer-at-Arms (someone who runs a fire control system) and Software Archeologist (don’t we all do a little of this?). I’ve invented a few more.

If we can have software engineers and architects, surely we can also have folks at the other end of the life cycle. The Digital Demolitions and Disposal experts are crackerjack at surgical removal of entrenched systems; they can remove badly written, corroded apps from critical running systems without bringing down the databases immediately next door. As for the toxic waste, some systems are best shredded, melted down with thermite and entombed under a desert mountain before being bombed from orbit. Anything related to OS/2 or written in FORTH probably falls into this category. These guys will make sure that the old code never sees light of day again, lest the disease spread any further.

If you can’t figure out what a Systems Theologist would be good for, ask yourself the next time you’re doing a hot fix for a really pissed-off customer, and the patch has to work…

To a great extent we are already suffering the Deconstructionistas. These whitebearded academics issue missives from their ivory towers that no one understands, much less cares about. Titles like “Log-N Sorting Utilizing Voronoi Trees in Minority Computing” and “A Comparative Study of Brace and Indentation Style in Textile Firmware” could indicate that the grant and fellowship policies of many universities need some debugging.

Systems Humorist. “My mom thinks I work in High Tech.” After weeks of beating compilers into submission, shoehorning command lines into 2,000 characters or less, dealing with undocumented registry settings that seem to come back out of nowhere, reinstalling your system from scratch for the 30th time because the bean-counters won’t shell out for a new hard drive . . . it’s a wonder anything works at all. On days like this you want to call in the clowns. The Systems Humorist is the person responsible for bringing comic relief into the System That Grew Too Large And Important. For instance, as you reach the end of your rope, thirty hours into unspringing a race condition buried somewhere in fifty thousand lines of code that only happens every two weeks, you run across the funny comment that cracks your face with a smile.

Senior Scapegoat. Every project needs someone to blame. Why go to the trouble of finding a different person every time something goes wrong? Instead, make it an official role; that person will take the blame for the catastrophes and bad decisions, and the project can move on without the delay of a witch hunt. (Oh, you want something done about what went wrong? That usually doesn’t happen anyway, so why bother?) I’ve had cow-orkers volunteer themselves for this position, but management never really understood the benefit.

The Old Man in the Back Room. This is the fossil who is kept in an office that is usually located in the basement or next to the old lab in back. He’s ancient, crusty and crude, and he smokes, and he’s often not around, and he never attends meetings, but he knows the core of every product the company has shipped, and will answer any question that you’re brave enough to ask. Someone has hacked the HR database to keep him in a stipend sufficient to keep him alive and in cigarettes, but that’s really all he wants. That, and the opportunity to save the company’s butt every year or two (“They’re using Valgol again? Tried that in the 70s, didn’t work. [spits] Here’s a web page with all the answers.”)

I haven’t talked about the Chief Bozo and Bottle Washer, the Hallway Idiot, the Cross-Dressing Psychotic, and a host of characters truly Dilbertsian and terrifying. I’ve run out of time and need to go to work. Add your own 🙂

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